May 16, 2009
Womanhouse (30 January & 28 February, 1972) was a women-only art installation and performance organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Feminist Art Program. Chicago, Schapiro, their students and artists from the local community participated. Chicago and Schapiro encouraged their students to use consciousness-raising techniques to generate the content of the exhibition. Each woman was given a room or space of her own in a 17-room mansion in Hollywood, California.
Only women were allowed to view the exhibition on its first day, after that the exhibition was all-come, all-see. Chicago observed that on the first day, responses to the artwork were heightened, and on subsequent days responses were muted.
The initial idea to create Womanhouse was Paula Harper’s, she helped to conceptualize the project at the beginning. Later, the conception of Womanhouse continued as a topic for discussion in one of the class meetings. During the discussion, students asked what it would be like to work out one of their closest associative memories, the home, which as a culture of women have been identified with for centuries. It has been the place where women struggled to please others. The students wondered what the home would be like if they pleased no one but themselves as women and began the project.
The relationship between biology and social roles formed the foundation of Womanhouse. Most of the rooms replicated areas of the house while at the same time challenged the activity of that room and the meaning of that activity to women’s self-image through creative exaggeration.
A 47-minute documentary film was made in 1974 about the project by Johanna Demetrakas, and is now available on video. Though I could not access it yet.